When I turned on the TV at noon on September 17, 2016 to watch the Ohio University Bobcats play the Tennessee Volunteers, I had no idea what kind of college player Ohio redshirt freshman safety Javon Hagan was—but by the end of the afternoon, Hagan let me know.
It would be understandable for a redshirt freshman playing in one of his first college games, on the road, in front of more than 100,000 fans, against the 15th ranked team in the country, to resemble a deer in the headlights: wide-eyed and frozen. That wasn’t Hagan. Instead, he played with a physicality and toughness that seemed to say he was not intimated, that he was on the field for a reason: he came to win. Starting on special teams and eventually working his way into the defensive lineup, he made several stand-out plays. In the third quarter, Hagan chased down former Cleveland Brown Evan Berry from behind and made a strong tackle on kickoff coverage team. Later that game, Hagan made another big hit covering a punt, this time drilling New Orleans 3rd round selection and NFL pro bowler Alvin Kamara. He finished the day with 6 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Ohio didn’t win the game that day against Tennessee, but Ohio found a starter at safety for most of the next four years.
A few weeks after the Tennessee game, Hagan was in the starting lineup against rival Miami and started to make the big plays that would help lead Ohio to a 2016 MAC East title and Hagan to the MAC Freshman Player of the Year award.
The MAC Freshman of the Year is a significant award as it has been won by some of the best players in the MAC and/or the NFL since 2000, with the list of winners including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Corey Davis, Bernard Pierce, Sean Baker and Roosevelt Nix.
Hagan’s stat line his redshirt freshman year as only a part-time starter was filed with big plays: 53 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, and 6 forced fumbles.
Since his freshman year, Hagan has become one of the most versatile, impactful safeties in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Ohio has lined up Hagan at about every spot on the field coaches have put a safety and he has made big plays against the run and pass. Hagan has played at both safety positions, he has played as an “extra defender in the box,” he has lined up against the slot receiver in coverage, etc.
In 2018, Hagan created some big plays while displaying his versatility. Against 2018 MAC East Division winner Buffalo, he blanked the slot receiver and tipped the pass which was intercepted by a teammate (at 32 seconds) In the same game, he chased down NFL sixth round draft pick QB Tyree Jackson and caused a fumble inside the 5 yard line (at 52 seconds). Against Kent State, he preserved the win with an interception in the closing seconds from a one-deep safety position.
Hagan helped Ohio’s 2018 defense finish strong as Ohio recorded the first shutout in MAC bowl history: 27-0 against San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl.
As Hagan enters his final season, he is looking to do the one thing he hasn’t accomplished at Ohio: win a MAC championship. Hagan spoke with Ohio football Color Analyst Rob Cornelius at 2019 MAC Media Day, sharing what it would mean to win a MAC championship for head coach Frank Solich: “It would be great. Coach Solich does a great job and his is very deserving of it…it would feel great as a player for me to make that happen and I’m sure my teammates feel the same way.”
Should Ohio win the 2019 MAC championship, Hagan will be one of the reasons.
Selected Awards and Award Nominations:
· Three-time Ohio Captain
· 2019 Jim Thorpe Award Preseason Watch List
· 2019 Nagurski Trophy Preseason Watch List
· 2018 First-Team All-MAC
· 2018 Jim Thorpe Award Preseason Watch List
· 2017 and 2016 Second-Team All-MAC
· 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year
· Hustle Belt Top 25 MAC Players of 2019, 2018